Columbus and Colonization

The Spanish and "The Rich Coast"

Christopher Columbus sailed to the New World for the fourth and final time of his service in September 1502. His ships got caught in a storm, ending up with him "discovering" a land eventually named Costa Rica, meaning The Rich Coast, based on his descriptions of the adornments worn by indigenous people he encountered. His reports of estimated value proved as nothing but a disappointing flame to the moth-like explorers who set out to chase them down.

The domination of Central America by Spanish forces worked south from Mexico and North from Panama throughout the 16th-century. Both Pacific and Caribbean coast lines proved more difficult than the central valley. Tropical disease and unforgiving land features only allowed overtaking forces to move slowly. Unfortunately, communicable viruses not native to Costa Rica were spread by the troops to the indigenous people, causing even worse decimation of life. Just over 100,000 natives remained in the central valley by the time it was fully occupied by the Spanish. That number would drop as low as 7,000 before populations stabilized.

 

Conversion and Cultural Occupation 

Religious conversion was a main cause of Spanish rule. Indigenous folks were inundated with the requirement to accept Catholicism or die. It was a cultural overthrow as much as a workforce situation.

Subsistence farming and slavery on plantation style farms was the status quo in Costa Rica in the 17th and 18th centuries. Since there was a dearth of wealth produced in the area, slaves carried a higher value per individual, and human life was deemed more important because the natural resources were not bringing in money. Very little outside trade continued. Costa Rica was able to create a unique society since there was very little outside pressure during this timeframe. Cacao beans were even used for trading purposes as currency.

The only part of Costa Rica that was much different during the colonization period was the Guanacaste. Relatively little rain falls in this region, allowing for a better ranching climate. Differences in cultural climate persist today because of the more definitive class structures that were put in place centuries ago.